BUCKHANNON — Local Rotarians expressed support for the Upshur County Schools “vision of the future” following a Tuesday presentation by Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison, and Treasurer Jeffrey Perkins.
Dr. Stankus, in addition to Dr. Harrison and Mr. Perkins, provided updates regarding their plans for a new comprehensive career and technical high school, as well as a complete renovation of the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School to become the new Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
As the trio presented to several groups of stakeholders over the last several weeks, the current middle school was built in 1925, and is creeping up on 100 years old. Dr. Stankus explained that when they went out into the community and talked with stakeholders, they were reminded that “we don’t build middle schools, we build high schools.” She expressed, “It was an ‘aha moment’ for us.” During their CEFP meetings, one member came up with a slogan for the project that the rest felt fit very well, Dr. Stankus noted—“Schools our children deserve.”
Dr. Stankus elaborated on the condition of the current B-UMS building, which she noted has been showing its age for quite some time. They reportedly have to abate any area where they need to drill a hole due to asbestos, “which is expensive,” she clarified. Dr. Stankus recalled that when she first became superintendent, they had to abate a classroom, and at that time, it reportedly cost $26,000. The cost of maintenance to the building in general has increased every year, totaling over $700,000 this past year.
She also explained how the physical classrooms at B-UMS are much smaller and less conducive for the type of hands-on learning environment that they’d wish to have. “Teachers said it hinders their ability to instruct in a way that’s acceptable in the 21st century,” Dr. Stankus emphasized. She showed a comparison between a classroom at B-UMS and that of one in Berkley County and noted, “Our children deserve better, they really do.”
The total amount estimated to complete the construction of a new high school, in addition to a complete renovation to the current B-UHS for a “reimagined” middle school, will cost $49 million over 15 years. The renovation to the high school, will cost approximately $7-9 million.
In 2011, taxpayers purchased a piece of property near the current B-UHS. Although the board members for the CEFP looked at other property—particularly near the airport, which would’ve been ideal for some of the anticipated technical training—they ultimately chose the property already purchased by taxpayers to keep costs down. In addition, it is reportedly safer having two schools on one campus. This close proximity will also allow the two schools to collaborate and utilize shared access to sports facilities and CTE programs, with additional sports facilities included in the $49 million renovation and construction project.
At the new comprehensive technical high school, a free 2-year associate’s degree program from surrounding colleges and career technical programs will be available for students offering training in flight and aviation programs. Dr. Stankus noted their programs will not work in competition with Fred Eberle Technical Center, but will instead collaborate. “The director at Fred Eberle is very excited about this high school,” Dr. Stankus expressed. With this new comprehensive career and technical high school, they will also be able to offer adults the same opportunities in the evenings at this new facility, Dr. Stankus publicized to Rotarians.
With the total cost of the project estimating $70 million, the School Board Authority will be asked to contribute $21 million. “The community asked for this, and we listened,” Dr. Stankus expressed. “They didn’t just want a new high school; they wanted a comprehensive career technical high school.”
Through this vision of the future for Upshur County Schools, the economy is also expected to be stimulated by providing training, certifications, and ultimately more and better opportunities for the students, in addition to the adult population, mentioned Dr. Stankus. She added, “It is not just about a new building, but about changing the way we educate our students.”
Dr. Harrison mentioned that they are working very closely with institutions of higher education, such as West Virginia Wesleyan College, Glenville State College, and potentially Pierpont Technical College. “We want to be sure our students leave B-UHS with an opportunity to join the workforce and make a living that will allow them to be productive members of their community… Or if they want to go on to college, they will have at least two years under their belt. We will save families so much money. Two years of basically free college classes for our students will be amazing,” Dr. Harrison stated.
According to the presenters, their goal is to create a facility that is responsive to the needs of businesses, not just locally, but state and nationwide as well. Through this, Dr. Stankus noted they will also be focusing on soft skills such as proper communication—verbally and written—when seeking job opportunities, in addition to things like looking someone in the eye while you’re talking, and the importance of showing up for work. She concluded, “I know our kids deserve this. They deserve the best.”
Rotarians Rich Clemens, Don Nestor and President Kathy McMurray commended the group on this concept for a new and improved environment for local students. Nestor emphasized that encouragement as a community and from the community, for Upshur County students and administrators, is very important. “This is a good opportunity to do that,” Nestor added.
McMurray strongly encourages the community to come to the public meetings, so you can see “what the vision really is.” She articulated, “It’s a great vision, and as Dr. Stankus said, ‘our children deserve it.’”
In other news for the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur, several upcoming service projects are in the works as the holidays are nearing. Most pressing, the organization will be assisting with the Parish House’s Thanksgiving basket distribution, in addition to providing meals to healthcare workers at St. Joseph’s Hospital on October 26.